Bilateral Irritants Under The Hat
IT was not difficult. The Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, spoke of the Three Idiots, a film that his daughter ‘forced’ him to see, and the Indian establishment (and media) melted: “The guy is really nice; he loves Indian movies”. Further, he chose to eat vegetarian at his Indian counterpart&’s banquet. Wow, here is a Chinese leader who is different; he deeply respects our customs.
But is Mr Li really different?
The South China Morning Post believes that Li&’s foreign tour (India, Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany) was a success: “On his maiden, eight-day diplomatic trip as premier, Li Keqiang not only engaged in serious bilateral talks but also attempted to show his personable side to boost the image of the Chinese leadership.”
The Hong Kong publication continues: “Li expressed his appreciation of foreign culture and appeared self-confident when touching on sensitive issues.”
In Germany, he even watched live the European Champion League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. He told a charmed German Chancellor: “If we both come together in an ideal and optimal way, a dream team will emerge.”
The tough lady also melted. Though the European Commission had planned to impose hefty duties on solar panel imports from China, making it difficult for Beijing to dump low-cost panels and destroy the European solar industry, Angela Merkel said that Germany would oppose Brussels’ decision.
In Berlin, Li even announced that China was willing to preferentially open up its market to Germany; never mind that it is impossible under EU rules, Mr Li made the offer.
As Mr Li was demonstrating his charisma in Europe, the news flashed that China had managed to construct a road up to Finger-IV area in the Sirijap sector, on the northern shore of the Panggong Lake in Ladakh, some five km deep inside the Indian territory. The incident took place on May 17, only two days before Li&’s arrival in India.
As Delhi was keen to have a ‘successful’ visit by the Chinese Premier, the cat was kept in the bag. In any case why worry. The Defence Minister declared a week later: “The Army is updated about the latest position there. Whenever these kinds of incidents happen in the local areas, they are handling it.” Mr Antony added: “India can protect its national interests. India is not the India of the past.”
The nation is reassured!
Many will, however, be disappointed that Mr Li&’s Indian visit brought no concrete progress on the border issue. The joint statement just “expressed satisfaction over the work done so far by Special Representatives” and “encouraged them to push forward the process of negotiations and seek a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement.” The usual stuff, as if nothing had happened in April.
Mr Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart only reiterated the existence of different mechanisms. They “noted with satisfaction that the meetings of the India-China Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on Border Affairs held till date have been fruitful.”
Not a word to explain the Chinese PLA&’s intrusions in the Depsang Plains, just five weeks earlier. Is the Indian public not entitled to know what has happened? Apparently no!
The common man shall probably never be told why the Chinese came, camped on Indian soil and left. Why was the incident taken so lightly by India? It will remain a secret for the sake of Sino-Indian friendship.
From the start, Mr Li probably knew that nothing would happen on the border front. The proof, he left his main ‘negotiator’ at home. Yang Jiechi, State Councillor and Special Representative on the border issue (far senior to Wang Yi, the Foreign Affairs Minister. who was in Delhi) was meeting the Mexican foreign minister and the Mongolian Deputy Prime Minister in Beijing while Li was enjoying Indian food.
Why was Yang not in the Premier&’s plane? Simple, it is not in China&’s interest to work out a border agreement with India right now. The marine disputes in the South China and East China Seas are far more important.
Another serious issue between India and China is the trade imbalance. Both countries have fixed an ambitious target of $100 billion as the trade turnover by 2015. The joint statement says: “The two countries agreed to take measures to address the issue of the trade imbalance. These include cooperation on pharmaceutical supervision including registration, stronger links between Chinese enterprises and Indian IT industry, and completion of phyto-sanitary negotiations on agro-products.”
Last financial year, India&’s exports to China reached only $13.52 billion, while its imports were $54.3 billion. A trade deficit of $40.78 billion is not paltry! Here again, though China professed that it is keen to solve the issue, in terms of action Beijing does not seem interested.
The Times of India reported from Beijing that the companies represented in Li Keqiang&’s business delegation “seem bent on selling instead of buying in the Indian market.”
The newspaper explained: “Only five of the 73 Chinese companies in the list of Fortune 500 are represented in the business delegation, providing an interesting reality check to the Indian industry.”
Who was represented? Mainly companies wanting to enhance their sales in India such as crane manufacturers (Sany), power machinery (Shanghai Electric), telecom equipment giants (Huawei and ZTE), aluminum industry equipment (Dalian Cimm), items for lightening (China National Township Enterprises) or art and craft goods (China Artex).
Particularly strange is the fact that the National Security Council (NSC) had warned the government that telecom imports from China could pose significant national security risks to the country. Sanjeev Nayyar wrote in the Business Standard: “Part of the NSC&’s justification for this claim is that Huawei and ZTE have links to Programme 863 of the Chinese government, which was administered by the People&’s Liberation Army.”
Even if it rings alarm bells in the Indian intelligence circles, the Government does not seem to be much bothered.
In an interview in New York, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht alleged that Huawei and ZTE violated anti-dumping and anti-subsidy guidelines; he said the cheap capital ‘created a distorted playing field’.
The South China Morning Post pointed out that “cheap finance from China&’s state-backed banks is increasingly regarded by the EU and the United States as an unfair subsidy that breaks global trade law.” What about India?
It is doubtful if Commerce Secretary S R Rao, who will be leading a team of Indian government officials to China, can change anything in the present stakes.
Another irritant ~ why always club a visit to Delhi with a trip to Islamabad? The Chinese leader ended up praising Pakistan so much that it became embarrassing for Delhi. In an interview, Li Keqiang declared: “When it comes to Pakistan, the first word that comes to the mind of the Chinese is ‘iron brother’. To us Chinese, Pakistan is always a trustworthy friend who is as solid as iron. Actually, Chinese netizens refer to Pakistan as Iron Pak.”
Beijing is free to choose its ‘iron’ partners, but this choice should not be associated with India.
From China&’s point of view, Li&’s foreign tour was certainly a success. He showed an affable face of the Middle Kingdom and many thought that the new leadership is different. It remains to be seen in its actions.
Regarding the Three Idiots, the story does not say if Ms Li, the Premier&’s daughter, gave her father a pirated version or an original DVD. But Mr Li certainly enjoyed seeing the blue shores of the Panggong Lake with the imposing mountains of Ladakh as a background; it is however no reason to build a road on the opposite shore on Indian territory.
Not a word to explain the Chinese PLA&’s intrusions in the Depsang Plains, just five weeks earlier. Is the Indian public not entitled to know what has happened? Apparently no! Why was the incident taken so lightly by India? It will remain a secret for the sake of